It can be inspiring to hear standard repertory works played by young musicians discovering them for the first time. Whatever such performances may lack in assurance is usually compensated for by the involvement and freshness that comes through.
The New York Youth Symphony, celebrating its 50th anniversary, consistently provides such performances. Naturally, for all their talent and dedication, these players, who range in age from 12 to 22, are still green. Their performances can sometimes be technically spotty.
But the orchestra was in a groove on Sunday afternoon for the second of three programs at Carnegie Hall this season, conducted by Joshua Gersen, its impressive music director. The players were particularly afire in excerpts from Prokofiev’s ballet score “Romeo and Juliet.” This is a tough piece, boldly scored for a large orchestra, alternately demanding playing of gnashing power, scampering brio and sly delicacy. Expectations are always high.
During whole stretches of this performance I forgot that I was hearing a youth orchestra. Mr. Gersen and his players tore into dark, heaving music that depicts the dance of the knights, then shifted mood and approach effortlessly to dispatch the fleeting runs and dashing spirits of “Juliet, as a Young Girl.” The orchestra brought grace and charm to the “Minuet” at the ball, and pummeling intensity to the thick, slashing chords of “Death of Tybalt.”
The first half of the program offered Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D, withLouis Schwizgebel as soloist. Born in Geneva, Mr. Schwizgebel is a student in the artist diploma program at Juilliard. Coming up for him is a re-engagement with the London Philharmonic.
Ravel wrote this rhapsodic, dramatic and compact concerto for the Austrian-born pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm as a soldier during World War I. It begins with primordial stirrings in the orchestra but breaks into bold declamations when the piano enters in an extended solo episode that Mr. Schwizgebel played with bright sound and virile energy. He was equally excellent in the sections of the piece where the pianist must articulate a long lyrical line that floats atop rippling, diaphanous arpeggios.
As part of its First Music program the New York Youth Symphony gives the premiere of a work commissioned from a young composer at every Carnegie Hall concert. This one opened with Paul Dooley’s eight-minute “Run for the Sun.” In a program note the composer writes that the piece evokes an “urban chase scene dashing toward the setting sun as it beams down long boulevards, interrupted by skyscrapers.” The short frenetic piece juggles two brassy, menacing themes, played against clattering percussion, though there are fleeting, timeout episodes of quizzical string writing and hazy harmonies.
Not many major orchestras match the New York Youth Symphony’s commitment to living composers.